5 Alternatives to Holiday Office Parties

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By Vicki Salemi

If you've sported one too many cocktail dresses and seen one too many lackluster karaoke performances of "Don't Stop Believin'" by your colleagues in accounting, this post is for you.

Yes, it's the season to be jolly and celebrate the end of the year with your co-workers, but that doesn't mean you're limited to lunches on expense accounts and the annual oh-so-predictable holiday evening party. On the contrary, the holiday season is all the more reason to think outside that cubicle when it comes to an office party. Key factors to keep in mind involve teamwork and camaraderie. Are you truly spending quality time with colleagues? And how about team bonding? Sure, karaoke can certainly bond a crowd, but so can a memorable outing to the local soup kitchen.

Also, alternatives to evening holiday parties mean colleagues won't have to scramble to get sitters for their kids and stress out about getting dressed up. Plus, single people won't feel alone if they don't have a plus one this year. Getting creative can help limit extraneous stressors and distractions at work while focusing on the team and, of course, that holiday cheer. Here are a few ideas:

Do brunch. Ditch the notion of that annual holiday luncheon and gather the department for an impromptu team brunch instead. Once everyone has congregated in the conference room for that 11 a.m. team meeting, spring the news that you're taking them out for brunch and the rest of the day is on the company's dime. Sure, most restaurants only serve brunch on weekends, but if you call ahead of time and ensure they can whip up their best omelet, chances are the venue will be grateful for the late morning business. (Mimosas optional.)

Volunteer. It's a funny thing about volunteering: You do something wonderful for someone else, but you ultimately feel grateful for what you have and the opportunity to serve. Whether your team serves a meal at a local shelter or sings holiday carols to senior citizens in a nursing home, this purpose takes holiday parties to a new dimension: celebrating togetherness and quintessential teamwork. Do you really need another party to fill that need when there are probably countless other networking soirees with cheese platters this holiday seasons as well? .

Jump around! Get active. Another option involves an activity with the keyword being just that: active. Why not rent out a local gym for a group spinning class and access to a rock climbing wall? If you're in warmer temperatures, perhaps rent a boat for the afternoon and have a certified sailor take you around to enjoy scenery and then do some old-fashioned fishing? Not unlike holiday parties, you'll be out of the office and enjoy quality time with colleagues. And with any luck, you'll grab the catch of the day, too.

Take a cooking class. Let's visit a recurring theme that's not atypical for holiday parties: food! Instead of dining out and having someone serve you, why not create the concoction yourself? Scout out some local cooking schools to see if you can rent a kitchen for the evening or even an afternoon so your colleagues can don aprons and morph into their best Emeril Lagasse. You'll learn something new, share some laughs and enjoy your culinary creations with each other.

Gift cards. Show me the money! In the height of the recession, it wasn't uncommon for companies to tighten their proverbial belts and eliminate costly parties altogether. As our economy slowly recovered, your company may have reinstated the party (albeit, more low key) or luncheon. Or perhaps in lieu of the parties, your company instituted gift cards. Yes, money is always an option when all else fails. However, when it comes to holiday togetherness, alternatives can trump financial rewards.

According to a 2009 McKinsey study during the height of the recession, leaders had to rethink monetary rewards and focus instead on praise from leaders, attention and opportunities to lead projects. So no, gift cards and bonuses are never a bad move, but if you want to create an experience that involves quality time and group togetherness, opt for an outing instead.
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